Tas petrol station deal may be loophole in transition laws

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Tas petrol station deal may be loophole in transition laws

Has a Tasmanian petrol retailer found a loophole in the Federal Government's industrial relations laws which will allow new employers to undercut current wages and conditions when they take over existing businesses?

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Has a Tasmanian petrol retailer found a loophole in the Federal Government's industrial relations laws which will allow new employers to undercut current wages and conditions when they take over existing businesses?

The ACTU and Tasmanian unions fear so, and are demanding answers from the Howard Government. And the ALP claims it has detected a trend which shows the current 12 months legal protection of workers' wages and conditions is worthless, if new employers are cunning and set up as a new business.

The Tasmanian issue concerns United Petroleum, which in May gained control of 13 Tasmanian service stations by buying a company called Norvac from Mobil.

Existing Norvac employees (plus some new employees) are now under a greenfields agreement on flat rates of pay. The Federal Government's Office of Workplace Services (OWS) has found that the setting up of the greenfields agreement is legal.

$190 a week pay cut

The hourly all-inclusive pay rates now vary from $14.33 an hour for console operators to $16.09 for petrol station managers with five or more employees. Unions claim these rates are down from a previous casual rate under the State award of as much as $36 an hour on weekends and more for public holidays - with some workers reported to have had their take home pay cut by $190 a week.

Specifically excluded from the agreement are:

  • Rest breaks;
  • Incentive-based payments and bonuses;
  • Annual leave loadings;
  • Observance of days declared as public holidays;
  • Loadings for working overtime or for shift work;
  • Penalty rates.

United Petroleum General Manager David Szymczak said this week the 'transmission of business' regulations - which guarantee wages and conditions for 12 months under Federal legislation - didn't apply in the takeover of Norvac, because the service stations had previously operated as commission agents and their contracts had come to an end.

'Most of the staff were new to the industry,' he said. 'We in some cases closed the sites, took over the sites, employed new people, spent days training. There is no issue of the business being transferred from one to another.'

Same job, different pay

However the ACTU disagrees.

'The workers are basically doing the same jobs as they were doing when they sold petrol for Mobil,' said ACTU President Sharan Burrow. 'Now they are selling petrol for United. Even the company that controlled the Mobil franchise in Tasmania, Norvac, is now their current employer - it has simply been bought out by United Petroleum and restructured.'

She estimated that up to 65 workers at United Petroleum's new petrol stations in Tasmania have been affected by the new employment contract.

Opposition IR spokesman Stephen Smith has linked the United Petroleum transfer of business case to the Hilton IGA supermarket in Perth, where an existing business was taken over by new owners.

AWAs imposed

Smith said that in this case instead of the transfer of business regulations applying, AWAs were imposed by the new owner as a condition of employment for existing and new employees. As a result about 60 staff at the Hilton IGA lost their penalty rates, roster protections and pay increases provided for in their former collective agreement.

Smith said the Federal Government has so far 'shirked' the national transmission of business questions thrown up by Hilton IGA, by doing nothing more than pointing out that the OWS is investigating.

'Now they are saying exactly the same when asked about the transmission of business questions raised by the United Petroleum case in Tasmania,' Smith said.

Waiting for answers

'Meanwhile there are suggestions in the Western Australian retail industry that more IGA stores might be sold on the same basis as the Hilton IGA transmission of business.

'Prime Minister John Howard and Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews can't keep avoiding the national transmission of business questions which have arisen and require a response.

'Employees at United Petroleum's petrol stations, at the Hilton IGA supermarket and potentially even more IGA staff in Perth, are waiting for answers.'

The OWS is conducting further investigations into the United Petroleum issue.

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